This House, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Review
***** 5 Stars
“Gripping Political Intrigue!”
In 2012 James Graham’s play “This House” was produced by the National theatre in the Cottesloe Theatre and proved such a success it was transferred to the Olivier for the remainder of its run before closing in May 2013. The Minerva Theatre revived the production for a run in Chichester and lead to such success the production transferred to the Garrick theatre in London’s west end. It’s that rich vibrant and compelling production which has started a UK Tour and has arrived for a week long run in Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre.
This House derives its title from the name given to the House of Commons by MPs. The action takes place in the period in British parliamentary history between February 1974 and that year’s general election and the 1979 vote of no confidence in the government of James Callaghan. The play is set in the Palace of Westminster mainly in the offices of the Labour and Conservative Chief Whips. Party leaders such as Ted Heath, Harold Wilson, James Callaghan, Jeremy Thorpe and Margaret Thatcher remain offstage characters. The narrative concentrates on the relationships between the two sets of whips (the so-called usual channels), and between the whips, their backbenchers and the members of the minor parties. Although the play is based on real events, it is neither a documentary nor a biography, but a fictionalised account of a turbulent period in British politics. Conversations are imagined, characters have been changed, incidents added and the time line adjusted. It is indeed a politically thrilling exploration of by gone age in British politics the likes of which we shan’t see again.
From the outset Directors Jeremy Herrin and Jonathan O’Boyle have created what is perhaps the strongest ensemble piece of theatre in the UK at the moment with the majority of the cast playing 3 or more characters each and every one them match up in talent and dexterity to the principal cast. Of the principals James Gaddas delivers such a strong performance as Walter Harrison (chief Government whip under Callaghan) that it verges on a master class of character acting and for those lucky audience members who sit on stage it must have seemed all the more impressive.
This House is a stylized treat with a 3 piece rock band being used to integrate the action drawing from the sounds of the mid to late 70’s coupled with a stylish set design from Rae Smith that truly brings the House of Commons to the stage using inventive projection of Big Ben and Thames beyond. The period costume design is spot on the money and the creative team delivers a faultless production ensuring This House truly draws you into the cut and thrust of political life.
This House’s strength is to visualize a time in politics that had such an effect on humanity not just for the electorate but for the MP’s who walked the hallowed halls of power and saw the dawning of Thatcherism and it’s a play of such gripping political intrigue that the audience leaves totally satisfied by the final curtain.
The Festival theatre has the only Scottish Dates of this tour so for drama that excels and a story that grips from the beginning get along to the Festival Theatre and the palace of Westminster for “This House”
Jonathan Church Productions and Headlong Present the National Theatre and Chichester Festival Theatre Production of “This House” Festival Theatre Edinburgh, for tickets go to https://www.capitaltheatres.com/thishouse UK tour continues.